Your Fall Guide to Lawn Care in Central Georgia

By: Shawn Graham

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Central Georgia gets hot and steamy, especially in the summer. But with average temperatures in the 70s and 60s in the fall — and winter days usually climbing well above freezing — the central lake areas of the Peach State are a draw for anyone who wants to live in Southern style. The median home value in Georgia is more than $190,000. Values have risen nearly 8 percent in the past year and are expected to jump about 3.6 percent next year. But prices in the Lake Oconee area have a huge mix. The Phoenix/Jefferson area of Eatonton, for example, which includes beautiful lakefront homes, has a median value of $381,000.

This information is especially important if you want to sell your home. You want to make sure you offer at a market value, but you also want top dollar. For the latter, making sure your home is kept up is vital.

Sure, you kept your lawn neat and trim during summer. But you also need to get the lawn ready for fall and winter. Whether you prefer to do it yourself or hire a service, landscape maintenance keeps the grass green, and gardens growing.

Soil Testing and Fertilizing

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For a healthy Georgia lawn, test the soil every three or four years (and especially before a fall feeding). Adding lime to soil that has a low pH is best done in autumn. This way, grass roots can absorb nutrients throughout the winter months and be ready for spring. The best pH value for Georgia lawns is between 5.8 and 6.5, which is slightly acidic.

Most soils in Georgia are loaded with iron oxides that bring about a reddish hue. The soil, called “Georgia Red Clay,” is composed of iron, silica, and aluminum. Depending on the pH of your soil, you may want to use a fertilizer with little or no phosphorus. 15-0-15 NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) is a good value for most lawns in the central part of the state. 

Organic fertilizer is good for the grass, too. Leaves can become part of your organic effort: Instead of raking tree leaves, place a mulching blade on the mower and run it over the grass a few days per week. Lawn soil absorbs minced foliage that becomes natural fertilizer. 

Lawn Care

Unless the grass has entered dormancy, you’ll still be mowing and caring for your Georgia lawn for much of the fall. Suitable grass varieties for Georgia are able to withstand heat and drought. Chances are, your property has one or more of these types:

  • Zoysia. Zoysia handles the heat of summer well, as it spreads a blanket of deep green grass throughout the yard. Zoysia takes its time to grow and establish root systems — usually around one to three months. It can become damaged when mowed improperly. Cut Zoysia 1½ to 2 inches in height.
  • St. Augustine. Lawns that are mostly in shade may be comprised of this low-sunlight variety. Mow St. Augustine 2½ to 3 inches high.
  • Bermuda grass. Although this type of sod is most often found on golf courses, the heat tolerance of Bermuda grass makes it a good choice for Central Georgia lawns, too. This durable grass goes dormant in winter. Cut it 1 to 1½ inches.
  • Centipede grass. Centipede handles heat very well. It grows on residential and business properties, parks and golf courses. The turf is low-maintenance and slow-growing but needs reseeding once or twice a year to keep a bright color. Set the mower deck blade height at 1 to 1½ inches.
  • Buffalo grass. Heat and drought tolerant, Buffalo grass is one of the better disease-resistant varieties and doesn’t need cutting as often as other types. Recommended mowing height is 2½ to 4 inches.

Mowing

A proper cut is a work of art that starts with sharp mower blades. Dull blades may tear up the sod and damage grass roots. Set the mower blade at the correct height for the type of warm-season grass in your yard.

When mowing your lawn, do not cut more than a third of the grass height. Sod that is cut too short will weaken and roots become susceptible to disease and pests. With each cut, alternate row direction so that individual grass blades bounce back from being trampled on. (Cutting in the same direction tamps turf down in one direction, which keeps grass blades from enjoying the sun’s fortifying rays). Leave the grass clippings on the lawn to decompose into natural fertilizer. Mow the lawn once a week or as needed until the grass stops growing.

Weeds and Aeration

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Weeds grow in all warm-season grasses during Georgia winters, especially in Bermuda or Zoysia grass. Apply a pre-emergent herbicide before winter dormancy.  To get rid of flowerbed weeds, either spot treat with chemicals or use a weeder. 

Aerating the turf — a process of removing small plugs of dirt — is best done in the fall, especially with compacted soil. Soil becomes thickened with dead roots and runners,, both the above-ground runners (stolons). A little thatch is good, but any buildup taller than a half-inch risks snuffing out the lawn. It will lose its ability to breathe and absorb nutrients, air, and water. Aerate the lawn before winter sets in.

Put an autumn lawn care plan into place right now … it will be winter before you know it!

Shawn Graham, a former real estate agent, stages homes and landscapes before they go on the market. Her own garden is filled with native blooms and shrubs that attract birds and bees.

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